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GMO Food To Get Labels Beginning 2020: What Is GMO?

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GMO products will now get labels indicating as such. The Department of Agriculture has now submitted guidelines on proper GMO labeling, and one of the solutions is to refer to GMO products as "bioengineered."  ( Robyn Beck | AFP/Getty Images )

New guidelines for labeling foods with genetically modified organisms have now been submitted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which essentially would require all foodmakers to use labels that indicate their products contain GMO.

A great number of Americans still debate over the safety of GMO food regardless of scientific studies that say they aren't health hazards. Many companies, along with a handful of different establishments including restaurants and coffee shops, now place "non-GMO" labels on their products.

For the uninitiated, GMO refers to plants and animals created via gene alteration in ways that natural breeding can't achieve. It also refers to products that contain GMO ingredients. Scientists perform this to make some plants resistant to ill elements and ultimately make agriculture more efficient. For example, one type of papaya contains a gene modification that makes it resistant to a certain virus. Only a handful of crops like this, according to The New York Times, are grown globally.

What Are GMOs?

The most significant belief among the anti-GMO groups is that GMO foods elevate risk of certain diseases. A report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine in 2016 found "no differences that would implicate a higher risk to human health" from GMO crops. It found no evidence that GMO foods in North America have contributed to higher risks incidence of cancer, obesity, diabetes, kidney disease, autism, celiac disease, or food allergies. Several other organizations have also expressed that GMOs are safe for consumption.

Department Of Agriculture's New Guidelines

Even still, the new guidelines will require foodmakers and manufacturers to put GMO labels on their products by 2020, but they're given more freedom beyond a plain, nondescript "GMO" sticker.

Instead, the guidelines propose labels such as "bioengineered" — or "BE," for short. Foodmakers would also be able to choose among three options: say the product contains GMO flat-out, use a standard icon or logo, or place a QR code that will take users to a website containing more information.

However, the labels may not appear on all products that contain GMO. For example, some crops that undergo genetic engineering might not be required to get such labels because even though their genes are altered, such alterations can still occur via conventional breeding methods. Another example are foods whose main ingredient is non-GMO meat but otherwise contain GMO ingredients. Both of these don't have to be labeled.

It's important to note that the Department of Agriculture's guidelines are still pending. The public has until July 3 to comment on the proposal.

What do you think of GMO labels on products? As always, feel free to sound off in the comments section below!

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